Sunday, 9 July 2017

Honey Buzzards, Wykeham Forest

Honey buzzard watching can be very hit and miss at times. More often than not, even when you go to a known raptor watch point where honey buzzards are regularly seen, you can wait hours and see nothing, or perhaps at best get a dubious sighting of a bird of prey miles away which some unknown and overzealous fellow observer of dubious ability claims to be a honey buzzard because it has “very flat wings”. If you’re really unlucky you might also experience definite goshawk syndrome simply because it was “way too big for a sparrowhawk”. All very unsatisfactory for what should be a top birding experience. On such occasions, better to admit that what you actually saw was a buzzard and a female sparrowhawk and leave with your pride intact! Live to fight another day.

Today was another day. We visited Wykeham Forest Raptor Watchpoint in North Yorkshire, hoping as we always do that things would be different, and that as well as the obligatory dodgy buzzard and sparrowhawk we’d also get to see genuine honey buzzards and goshawk. After all, honey buzzards had been showing pretty well all week so we were confident, and our hopes were boosted on arrival at 9:30am when we were met by fellow birders who were already leaving the site having seen the star attractions. All unusually positive for a raptor watch point!

We weren’t disappointed, after less than an hour wait somebody spotted a probable honey buzzard flying away from us “on flat wings”, and almost immediately another much closer bird followed it. The second bird banked and then circled around and I could clearly see the rings on the tail and the grey head of a male honey buzzard. It had quite a pale underwing and was a pretty good view through the scope. It gradually began to climb and we waited in anticipation.....

At last with a clap of its wings it began its spectacular butterfly display, falling from the sky and dancing like a childs' kite in the wind before rising high and starting again, we watched in awe as it continued its roller coaster flight across the sky for a full 15 minutes, always clapping its wings above its head on the downwards fall. It really had been a day worth waiting for because this was certainly one of the finest honey buzzard displays I have ever seen, perhaps not quite on a par with the Dunsop Bridge sky dancing pallid harrier from earlier in the year, but not far off as good!

No raptor watch is complete without a dodgy goshawk and today was no exception. I failed to get onto a distant bird which everybody else assured me was a goshawk, but I did manage see a bird later that was “too large for a sparrowhawk” so must have been a goshawk. Yeah right...... tick.

Also today, a hobby over the viewpoint, but by the time an osprey flew over we were heads down looking at hoverflies around the car park.

UK Year List: 226; Life list: 425 (last lifer Elegant tern).

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